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Re: VMs: 1006184 & 1006185
All good points. And it's getting both fascinating and detailed (which
I like - but I'm not an expert or a botanist).
Some comments below - sorry about the length - I'll stop after this.
I don't know if this helps any, but to my mind there are some background
considerations that weigh heavily on what we might expect of the VMS plant
A few of the most popular early herbals were written by people who were well
travelled, who had actually seen some of the plants they wrote about. The
problem is that the poeple who made copies of these herbals hadn't seen
hardly any of them, and therefore stylized the drawings, based on written
descriptions of the plant, and nothing more.
This is suggestive evidence that the VMS might have been made by someone
who had no access to the plants (see below). But I'd like to know more
about the processes of stylization in the drawings. For example, is it
known if certain copiers made stylizations in certain ways (leaf shape,
flower shape...)??? That might give us a handle on the chain of
drawings leading to VMS. It would also be interesting to know if there
were regional styles of stylization (e.g. did Italians mis-draw flowers
more than leaves, and Germans vice versa?). What effect did (lack of)
access to particular pigments have on differences in drawings. With
respect ot the strawberry which started this all off (and it's really
great to have the SIDs - I brought them home on a couple of CDs with the
MrSID viewer) - my thought there is that the leaves look like they might
be stylised reductions of cinquefoil (eg Marsh Cinquefoil which has the
right colour flowers) or elaborations of a trefoil (like the
strawberry). The leaves on the flowerstem are more plausible
elaborations of bracts for Cinquefoil perhaps, than strawberry (where
the bracts become leaflike as the fruit forms).
Note - we are talking about well before Linnaeus and systematic
classification, so the sort of informedness of artistic portrayal of
plants we have now cannot be expected - but in a sense that helps us.
We can check different artists of the suspected period to see what sort
of plant features they considered important and so forth. We might
also look into why some herbals are so well drawn - is that just a
reflection of access to the plants in real life? (This would imply
careful planning across one season, or access to plants over several
seasons and thus a protracted production of drawings.)
It would also be interesting to know of any psychological studies of
drawing as a process (the artistic equivalent of "Chinese Whispers" as
we call it in England - it is not difficult to set up, if any of you
have access to classrooms of kids, for example). Draw a plant (or
photocopy a good illustration) and pass it to a child to copy, and then
that copy to another, and so forth.... Try the same with adults, but
that can be difficult to manage in relation to poor knowledge of botany
but reasonable drawing self-confidence.
I've read about 300 early printed books on herbs and medicines, most of
which tell where the plant grows and what it is used for.
I've looked at 2 MS not printed books, and I haven't read them. The
Vermont images are not like those I found in Wellcome.
It turns outUsing as "end-users" or as traders? And see below on prevalence.
there was a booming business in herb trade, but few of the people using
these plants had ever seen them.
The plants were ground and packaged, and
there are many comments that seeds were roasted before shipment to other
countries in order to preserve the monopoly nature of the trade. Roasted
seeds do not grow.
Indeed, and sometimes roasting also effects their active chemicals.
Over what sort of period?
This left the apothecary trade in the position of using
ground plants from other countries without ever seeing the plant in
question. Their descriptions of these products usually involve taste and
color, nothing more.
Hmm - I'm a tinge doubtful. A good number of the plants you might find
in any herbal will grow well in almost any part of Europe - if carefully
tended. It is very easy to carry both specimens and seeds
surreptitiously. But, in addition, the trade will surely have been
going on since at least Roman times, and not necessarily secretively. I
have in my garden, as do many people throughout England, a persistent
weed introduced into England as a culinary herb by the Romans (or so
I've read) - certainly it is referred to as 'introduced'. It's called
Ground Elder (and a host of other names including 'goutweed' because of
its use in treating gout). Some roses, fruit trees of various sorts.....
many many plants are not native to England but came here over many
centuries before the huge expansion in varieties following Victorian
plant collectors' returns to England. Monks were no doubt hugely
important, but I doubt they didn't already have well established herb
gardens well before the 16th C. But it's more complex even than that
introductions have been going on for centuries. Some plants are of
course native to wide areas and so never had to be introduced. The wild
strawberry is native to all of northern Europe - no need to hide seeds
or plants - just go outside and gather as ye may (this also suggests it
is not much changed over the centuries).
Many books also indicate that the only local source for many of these herbs
were the monasteries and abbeys, maintained by the Church. One of the
priorities of travelling monks was apparently to bring back new plant
specimens, but monopoly trade laws made this a difficult task until the last
half of the 16th century.
And there is an interesting problem. Some plants should be much better
drawn than others (because if the monks had access problems they would
only have access to some plants - and the idea of a monastery/abbey
based artist getting them all, even the ones a few minutes away from
their desks, quite so oddly wrong seems strange).
Note - I'm not asking for realism of today's standards - I'm asking why
so little realism of any standard. And if there is to be a back story
about the scribe then let us get those details right also. And, let us
know more, from those who know, about variations in style, purpose,
reproduceability etc., and then we can put on the wiki pages the
reasons why we believe a particular illustration is of a particular
plant (or, mutatis mutandis, herbal apparatus or astrological chart or
whateve we think it might be...). The concern must be that if the VMS
is not a hoax then it is motivated in terms of its content rather than
its form. So considerations of style etc., will be very helpful.
As I said - I'm no expert - I have plants in my garden, I grow plants
and herbs and eat them, and I have books to help me. If I can find
doubtful (for informed reasons) claims that a particular illustration is
a particular plant then surely there is room for more detailed
Sifting through the sid images, there is a lot more damage to the vellum
than previously identified, damage that was repaired by the author prior to
drawing the images and writing the text. This poor quality vellum is
striking in that I've never seen another manuscript that uses so much
damaged vellum as this one does.
This observation goes straight to the
financing of the project, and also goes against any idea that the VMS is a
hoax. A hoaxter should
or merely 'could'??
have made use of the damage to make the manuscript
appear older, but the author went to the trouble of stitching and writing
over the damage.
All things considered, this information points mostWould this indicate something about the motivation for the work? For
example - 'private' in some sense? I'm thinking here that if it were to
have been a monastery project of some sort would the scribe need to
probably to a physician or herbalist in a monastery or abbey, not making a
copy, but using loose vellum ends and pieces to accomplish his work.
Plant proliferation would do much to negate the need for travel in much
of Europe, both natural proliferation and man-made. And where plants
were indeed unusual then we'd expect patchily bad representations.
working on some evidence that may demonstrate he once travelled to what is
now Germany, but beyond that there is no indication that this individual was
But there you have it - a person in a religious order, devoted to the
medicine of the time, poorly travelled and working with few materials. A
small abbey garden and a few countryside plants used as substitutes from
time to time, but no major knowledge of the appearance of some of the most
"powerful" medicinal plants, which came from abroad, already ground in
leather covered clay jars. I don't know what you can really expect in plant
realism if this is the scenario.
Sounds like a scenario. But I'm not sure - others can berate me.... if
we suppose a monk devoted to herbal medicine then I'm not sure how
sparse the supply of plants would be (size of abbey garden
notwithstanding). I'm not sure how unobtainable plant material would
be. What do you mean by 'powerful'? Atropine (belladonna) is powerful,
widely known, and probably widely distributed (it grows wild in UK).
I'm not sure why I'd have to suppose that was not the case 500 years ago.
Sure - a lot can change in 500 years - just down the hill from where I
live there is a tree covered hill which was a thriving fortified hill
town 500 years ago. You'd not know just to look at it. But knowledge
of plants and access to them - I'd need convincing!
Maybe just count me as deeply doubtful.... but I return to my major
concern. If we are to build a wiki site we must be really really
careful not to misinform or cast speculation as certainty. If we do
we'll prevent others from coming up with alternative ideas.
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